BOULDER -- When it happened the first time, Julia Box figured it simply was her turn to deal with an injury, an inevitable hurdle in the life of any athlete.
When the exact same thing happened again -- to the other knee, no less -- Box entertained legitimate concerns whether her passion for swimming might eventually land her in a wheelchair.
Suffering two dislocated kneecaps in quick succession would be enough to make any young athlete reconsider their vocation. Not Box, however. The sophomore from Fairview has overcome the affliction that first came to light last summer through a dogged physical therapy routine, and she will be one of the driving forces behind Fairview's aim at reaching the top five of the Class 5A state swim finals when the meet begins Friday at the Edora Pool and Ice Center in Fort Collins.
"I've been so nervous for this weekend. More than I've ever been before," Box said. "I will definitely be doing my exercises all the way through state. It really is a constant worry and it's one thing that is on my plate that I guess will always be there."
Box's knee ailments began last summer, when her right leg became tangled with another swimmer's legs during a routine workout session. Box suffered a partially dislocated kneecap that hampered her for much of the remainder of the summer.
Box believed the issue had been resolved when her club season began this past fall, but during her team's first meet it happened once again. Except this time there was no contact, and it occurred in her other knee. Even though she wasn't completely incapacitated, Box was understandably concerned when she consulted with a doctor.
It turned out a slight foible in the structure of her knees makes Box prone to dislocated kneecaps. And there is little she can do to remedy the situation except indulge in physical therapy and hope for the best.
"I could walk on it a little bit and it wasn't like it was totally out," Box explained. "I realized I'd probably have to do physical therapy for the rest of my life. It's frustrating and it's a bummer, but you just have to deal with it. The whole team has been super-supportive through the whole thing."
Box's ailing knees will need to be in perfect working order if Fairview hopes to make its charge to the top five of the team standings, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding how much of a contribution the Knights will receive from senior Abbie Houck.
The 2011 state champion in the 500 freestyle, Houck has not competed in more than a month due to a shoulder injury and is entered for state in just one individual event, the 100 freestyle. Fairview has a replacement for Houck in the 200 freestyle who is more than capable in senior Northwestern recruit Lacey Smith, and the Knights have qualified a program-record 28 individuals for state, surpassing the former mark of 25 Fairview recorded in 2007 and 2009.
While Smith is a top-eight candidate in her two individual events, Fairview will rely heavily on its freshmen and sophomores like Box in order to keep pace with Fossil Ridge, Cherry Creek, and the Missy Franklin-led squad from Regis Jesuit. Box placed sixth in the backstroke last year and 10th in the butterfly.
"I still don't think she's 100 percent, but her butterfly seems to be coming back fastest," Fairview head coach Bob Smartt said. "I think now she's making lemonade out of lemons. She's come back with a stronger attitude and love for the sport. I think with the layoff she's had a chance to think more about the sport and her future. I think she got fired up and became more motivated to come back."
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